Teaching ESL

Teaching ESL

notes for teaching 

When I first landed in China to teach English, I was greeted by a student who told me, “I am China; you America!” I understood her, but didn’t quite realize what I had signed up for until then.


Teaching English as a second language can feel daunting. Whether it’s home or abroad, even with countless resources at your disposal, the task of teaching something that is second nature to you is not an easy one. Here are some brief tips for teaching ESL.


One of the reasons this is so difficult is because English is something we know so well; it’s something we’ve lived with our whole lives and never had to seriously study to be able to communicate with others.


Despite early schooling in English, we’ve been passively educated in the language, too. Our friends, peers, and parents speak English. Every show we watch or label we read or conversation we hold is secretly bolstering our effective language capabilities. Someone who is new to English may be thrust into an environment that is heavy with English text and references, but these things hold no meaning without proper context.


The first thing to do is to gauge learners for this valuable context. What do they know? Where are there gaps in understanding? They may know of America but not of an Americ-an. It is easiest to work from these places of missing (or partial) information. It is also vital to start small. Never assume that because a learner knows one thing, they will know another. This is especially true of younger learners, who absorb seemingly arbitrary bits of knowledge without understanding what it means or anything related to it.


It may feel like a difficult course of action, but taking a few minutes to understand the host language or language that your learners are native to will help clear up misconceptions they have about words, phrases, or grammar points. Some students in China struggle more with verb conjugation than their European counterparts. These difficulties in language often stem from their own linguistic environments, and they can be troublesome habits to break.


Above all, it is important not to lose hope or to give in to frustration. Learning a language is a long and arduous road, and the right teacher will make a world of difference. Encourage your students to build their confidence, and foster habits so they’re getting in a little practice each day.

If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, take time to remember the vulnerability you felt in making mistakes and how it felt when a word was very foreign to you. It may even open you up to new avenues for teaching, and you may learn a thing or two yourself in the process!